French far-Right in financial setback
France's new far-Right leader Marine Le Pen is facing a major setback in her bid to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy after a bank demanded the seizure of her cash-strapped party's historic riverside headquarters.
Miss Le Pen, who took the reins of the National Front party (FN) from her father Jean-Marie in January, is enjoying a surge in the polls and the prospect of winning seats in the second round of local elections on Sunday.
The FN is trailing President Sarkozy's party by just two percentage points after the first round with the Socialists in first place.
But the party Miss Le Pen inherited is deeply in debt, and yesterday it emerged the French bank Societe Generale has secured an order for seizure of the FN's former headquarters west of Paris unless it repays a €5.2m debt by September.
The massive building overlooking the Seine river, known as "the cruise liner" was purchased by the Front National in 1994. It symbolised the rise of the party from obscurity in the 1970s to France's third political force and a thorn in the side of mainstream politics.
After shocking France by reaching the second round of presidential elections in 2002, Mr Le Pen received a drubbing in presidential and legislative elections in 2007.
The poor showing saw the National Front's public funding slashed as many of its legislative candidates were not entitled to have their campaign expenses reimbursed by the state.
The party has been trying to sell its former headquarters for more than two years to help pay off debts but the move by Societe Generale could force it into a firesell. The party already reduced the asking price from €15m to €10m after two earlier offers fell through.
"We will reimburse," promised Miss Le Pen, who hopes to use a possible strong showing in Sunday's local elections as a springboard to challenge Mr Sarkozy in next year's presidential race.
She said she would ask banks to loan her money in the knowledge they would be reimbursed after next year's elections. If they refused, she said she would ask "all the French people to help me".
The 42-year old FN leader is reportedly considering creating a new "micro-party" whose aim would be to collect donations for her presidential campaign, or take the reins of the micro-party set up by her father.
The party's debt problems spiralled in 2010 when a Versailles court ordered it to reimburse a former donor €6.3m euros and €600,000 in interest on unpaid loans.
Seen as a younger, more presentable face of the far-Right, Miss Le Pen poses a serious and growing threat to the deeply unpopular Mr Sarkozy in his bid for re-election next year.
Polls now suggest up to a quarter of the French would vote for Miss Le Pen.
At least one suggested she would knock Mr Sarkozy out of the first round to reach a second round run-off against Dominique Strauss Kahn, the current IMF chief should he run as Socialist contender.
Cracks are appearing in Mr Sarkozy's conservative UMP party as it quibbles over how to tackle the FN threat.